A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse and Forgiveness: This is Why We Don’t “Forgive”

The following news story is taken from Fox News. Abuse victims are all the time harangued about being so “unforgiving” and pressured to believe the supposedly “repentant” abuser. I do not operate that way and I recommend no one does. I approach all abusers with this basic presupposition: they don’t change. As I have said many times, if the Lord chooses to surprise me once in a while, I will be very happy when the exception comes along. I also conclude, and I believe biblically, that any person who evidences the fundamental traits of an abuser (entitlement, power/control seeking, justification) is not and cannot be a Christian.  

Christians can be very, very naive and ignorant about forgiveness, reconciliation, trust, love, mercy, and so on.  The problem is, as most all of our readers will attest to, these things are usually granted to the perpetrators of abuse, while the victims are treated unmercilessly.

Anyway, what in the world kind of thinking were these professing Christians engaged in when they permitted this psychopath — with a known murderous record — to be their pastor, pronouncing him forgiven and reformed? Sadly, someone paid with their life.

And these people STILL want to blame it on the devil!

Trigger warning:  This article describes this evil man’s actions.

 

BROOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A central Michigan pastor accused of beating and strangling a neighbor to fulfill a sexual fantasy was engaged to the victim’s mother and had asked church members to pray for the young woman before police found her body, a friend said Friday.

Ex-convict John D. White told investigators that after killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay in her trailer in rural Isabella County early Wednesday, he hid her body in nearby woods then returned to the trailer to dress her 3-year-old son in a Halloween costume, ready for the boy’s father to pick him up.

White told investigators he repeatedly struck Gay’s head with a mallet then strangled her with a zip tie, according to the Isabella County sheriff’s office. He said he stripped her but does not remember if he carried out his fantasy of having sex with Gay’s dead body.
“We are all absolutely floored,” said Donna Houghton, 76, who had a role in hiring White to be pastor at the 14-member Christ Community Fellowship three years ago. She said she protested his innocence until she heard he had confessed.

“Then he had no leg to stand on,” she told The Associated Press.

White led investigators to Gay’s body in a wooded area a half-mile away from the trailer park and later Wednesday was charged with first-degree murder. He remained jailed without bond on Friday. Gay and White lived in the same trailer park in Broomfield Township, 85 miles northwest of Lansing, and White was engaged to Gay’s mother who was a regular at his Sunday sermons, Houghton said. She said the pastor often watched Gay’s son while she was at work. White “really liked this young man,” Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said.

Houghton said that before White was arrested he had called her to ask that she contact other church members and start a prayer chain for Gay, who was still missing at the time. “He was pretty shook up. He said the police were giving him a hard time,” Houghton said.
She said the tiny congregation was aware of White’s criminal past when he joined the church. He was released from prison in 2007 after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County, according to the state Corrections Department. White also was sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981.

“He was absolutely contrite,” Houghton said. “All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He was doing a lot of good in the community. … He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him.”

Read the story at: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/11/02/michigan-pastor-charged-in-killing-fiancee-daughter/

20 Comments

  1. MeganC

    Sobering and powerful and sad. I just shared this on my FB wall. Thank you, Jeff, for continued insights into what constitutes forgiveness and what does not.

  2. I just had a sister in Christ visit me this week and she confided in me that she has recently left her husband (for the second or third time) after he threw her down the stairs and held her hostage in his isolated country home for two days. She was afraid for her life and only got away when her father-in-law showed up to work on the car.

    Now, as you know, I have commented here before on the domestic violence going on in my own home, and have voiced my own pain and disappointment over the way it was handled (or, rather, mishandled) by the church leadership. Just to refresh your memory, after seeking help from the church over my husband’s abusive behavior toward my son, who had been abused by my husband for 14 years, the church pressured me to throw my son out of my home instead of my husband in order to keep the family “intact.”

    I was very concerned for the safety of the woman when I learned that her and her husband were going to counseling appointments with the pastor of my church, and became more concerned when I heard that she was disclosing information to the pastor in the presence of her husband which might jeopardize her safety. A comment was made that after their last appointment yesterday, he was quite visibly “fuming mad,” although he didn’t in any way express this anger in front of the pastor. throughout the meeting he tried to intimidate his wife into silence by pulling his chair right up beside her, but she told him to back off.

    As far as I have heard, there has been no sign of remorse or repentance on the husband’s part, and he is attending the counseling with his wife only because she desires to work on the marriage, believing that God will heal the marriage if she has faith, and she has given him the ultimatum of going if he ever wants her to return to him.
    As I said already, this is not the first time she has left him and returned to him thinking he had changed. He had apparently gone four years without physically striking her, although he is overall controlling, manipulative, emotionally & sexually abusive, and uses pornography excessively.

    The pastor, to his benefit, held the husband entirely responsible for the physical abuse so far, and rebuked the man, but then he offered the man counseling with him if he so chose to work on the marriage.

    I want to know what my role here should be in supporting and building up this woman. I was very careful yesterday to bite my tongue and not push her either way. So far I have only reassured her that it is not her fault at all, that she didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and that she should not expect anything from him for as long as he is not accepting responsibility for his behaviors and attitudes. I also stressed to her that he needed professional help from a qualified therapist.
    Any advice or information or help that you could offer me for her, or for my pastor, would be much appreciated. I don’t know what to do and I am afraid for her safety right now.

    • Jeff Crippen

      In cases in which we fear for the victim’s safety, I think we should always encourage them to go to the local women’s shelter for help. She will receive professional help there. At least remind her of this and encourage her to go there even now and tell her story to the staff. You could offer to go with her. Otherwise it sounds like you are doing a great job.

      As to the pastor – he seriously needs to read up on abuse if he is going to counsel these situations. The fact that he is doing couples counseling is a big red light that he is uninformed. He needs to read Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? for starters. Then he needs to come to a biblical position that allows divorce for abuse. In my opinion, anyone who denies that God permits divorce for abuse is completely unqualified to counsel abuse situations. Barbara’s book Not Under Bondage and Instone-Brewer’s book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church are the starting places for this point. These would be wonderful tools for the victim to read as well.

      The very difficult thing is that we can’t push victims into action. We can provide information, we can be there to listen to them and help as they ask, but in the end they are the ones who must see the abuse and act. That waiting is very, very hard.

  3. Martin

    I think it’s important to help victims understand the difference between forgiveness and trust. This was huge for me. We always can forgive, turning our abusers over to the wrath of God instead of dwelling in our own anger. But trusting an abuser is something that victims should do only with utmost caution if ever. We forgive, but we can and should still protect ourselves. Learning this was so important for me.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks Martin. Yes, that is why I put “forgive” in quotes in the title of this article. I mean the foolish, wrong kind of forgiveness that supposedly must include trust. You are right. We can always forgive, but we must not always trust or reconcile. And this is, as you say, taught so wrongly so often to Christians.

      • Martin

        I remember the first time someone suggested I could forgive, freeing myself from anger and ill intent, without opening myself up to abuse again. I couldn’t hardly believe my ears. It still seems to me like one of the greatest hidden treasures of wisdom on earth.

      • MeganC

        I don’t know if either of you can see this but there is quite a discussion on my facebook regarding this article. I feel like I’m in the minority with my definition of forgiveness!!

      • Megan, I do not know if it helps, but my definition of forgiveness is “removing all debt owed”. I believe this definition of forgiveness is what Jesus did for us on the cross: he wiped away our debt owed to God. However, removing all debt does not mean giving trust, nor does it mean the removal of debt owed to the governing authorities or other third parties.

        Specifically, the way it works for me is saying to my ex “You do not owe me anything, nor is there anything you need to do to make things right. Based on our past history I do not feel safe trusting you in the future.” I did tell her exactly this- whether it meant anything to her I do not know. What I did not say is that it also means that I am not waiting on or expecting anything from her to make me “ok”.

        I hope you are not outnumbered on FB- FB arguments can be tough to handle at times.

      • MeganC

        Jeff — I completely agree with you and think that the way you set the boundaries with your ex was beautifully done. I think it is a matter of semantics, really . . . To me, forgiveness is a two-person reconciliation. The offender asks for forgiveness from the victim, with the full intent of recovery and a spirit of repentance. If there is no true repentance, I don’t know how one would forgive. I could be wrong about this. It is just that we ASK God to forgive us. It is not one-sided. He does not just forgive without being asked . . . If my abuser does not ask for forgiveness with true repentance behind it (which he did not and will not), then I can choose not to repay his evil for evil (justice) and sort of release him. I am a Christian; therefore, I am able to make the choice to not be bitter, not allow him to hurt me, not repay him and not allow any further communication. Someone quoted Matt 18 to me (70 x 7) but just a little earlier in the chapter, Jesus talks about *how* to forgive — bring a friend, get the church involved, if things are not resolved and the offender refuses to see the prob, treat him like a Pharisee or a tax-collector (most hated in that society). And what do you do with a Pharisee? You avoid them . . . Please help here, though. I might be getting off track and I am very open to wisdom on this. If we don’t have a good definition of forgiveness, then we are putting victims in a bad place . . . . With the definition you gave OR mine (if they are really any different), it shows the weight of what Jesus expected with forgiveness — it sets “forgiveness boundaries”. Wishing all would stop throwing around 70×7 as a way to keep victims shackled to their abusers. They don’t really want to change . . . . they AREN’T going to change . . . .

      • In my opinion, repentance is not required for forgiveness to be given, though it is required for it to be received, and certainly for there to be reconciliation if reconciliation is possible. This may be a very thin theological line I’m drawing here and I could be wrong, but for me, releasing the debt owed to me (and I believe she did owe me) was a way of releasing myself from expectation. For so long I wanted her to see, to understand, to “get” how much she hurt me- I thought that would make me feel better. And as long as I beat that drum it continued to make every conversation painful.

        But then I decided I would not expect her to give me that understanding or recognition of my pain. I didn’t need it, even if justice meant I should have it. There is healing in that for me, and I believe it is forgiveness. Until she repents I don’t believe she will ever get the fruit of that forgiveness, though.

        I’m not saying it’s the right way to look at it- it’s a point of view that worked for me in my situation.

        Either way, both you and I agree that forgiveness does not mean pretending the past did not happen, especially in how we make future situations. And that is the mistake your friends are making with the 70×7 stuff. Let’s look at Paul as an example at his ministry in Antioch in Pisidia. Do we think Paul was violating the 70×7 rule in this case?

        But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. (Acts 13:50, 51 ESV)

        He shook the dust from his feet against them, essentially declaring the ground unholy because of their actions. Did he continue to minister to them and try to redeem them, or he move on? You know what- I absolutely think he had a heart of forgiveness. He didn’t demand payment from them or seek vengeance. He kept on ministering the Gospel to the next crowd. I believe this is a model for dealing with abuse and forgiveness.

      • MeganC

        Jeff S — I feel like we’re on the same page. It is just that I wouldn’t call that release you describe “forgiveness” — I would call it a release . . . . something only a regenerate heart could do. I had a similar experience.

        Because my friends define forgiveness as “throwing yourself back in” . . . it puts a tremendous burden on victims. If forgiveness were release without intent of returning to the abuser or, even reconciliation with the intent to change, then the burden is placed on on the actual abuser — not the victim. Does this make sense?

      • Yes, we’re on the same page. I don’t see how we can define forgiveness as throwing ourselves back in when Paul was content to walk away. Was he unforgiving in their eye?

      • MeganC

        Right. And if we don’t throw our pearls before swine to be trampled on, are we unforgiving? Or, if we shake the dust off our feet (as you mentioned and as Jesus talks about) are we unforgiving? And on and on . . . I think “today’s version” of forgiveness in so many churches is just another way to control — whether they mean it that way or not. 😦

  4. I’ve always thought that Christians give the evil one waaaaay too much credit for the messes we humans make by our choices. This is such a sad story – a lovely young woman robbed of a future with her little boy, a child motherless forever.

    • Jeff Crippen

      For sure, Morven. I mean, the fact is that the people who foolishly called this guy into their midst need to own up to the responsibility they had in that decision. Yes, that is hard and a lot of guilt comes along with it, but the devil need not be blamed here. They actually even let the wicked guy off the hook quite a lot by saying that in the end, the devil just got hold of him. No, Satan had him all along.

  5. Laura M

    When I went to my previous church for help with a long list of my husband’s violent acts, they sent us to mediation at a Peacemaker counseling service. At one point during the mediation, my husband appeared to be crying, but I could see from my vantage point that he was really just angry and muttering about one of the counselors, his face covered by his ballcap. The lead counselor said, “Awww..he looks sorry.” I have regretted that I said nothing about his act at the time. Needless to say, within the month, he was again threatening me over the phone saying that he would kill me when he could figure out a way to do it without getting caught.

    • Still scared

      The crocodile tears…the overwhelming emotions of a 2 year old in an adults body…yeah, I don’t buy them anymore.

  6. Jeff Crippen

    My favorite verses for challenging people who insist that forgiveness requires reconciliation in all cases:

    2 Tim 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2Ti 4:1 ESV)

    • Jeff Crippen

      Hey, sounds like Paul is bitter and holding a grudge!

      • MeganC

        Haha!

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